Are Disabled Parents Getting a Fair Shot at Tennessee Child Custody?
When born into a family with a disabled mother or father, is it a given that the child would be better off in the custody of the nondisabled parent? Should the nature and severity of the parent’s disability influence Tennessee child custody decisions? Is placement with able-bodied foster parents always in the best interests of the child? With Tennessee divorce, should disabled parents be denied custody or visitation? Do disabled couples make lesser adoptive mothers and fathers? Should handicapped adults be prohibited from adopting because of their disability? What if the child is disabled or has special needs? Should the disabled parent lose custody because the special needs child requires a greater level of care?
These may be academic questions for many, but to millions of disabled parents who want to raise their children without interference from local governments and state family courts, the questions are something they must prepare for and aggressively respond to. Because of the unique challenges these custody issues involve, seek competent legal advice from a Tennessee child custody lawyer who is experienced in both state and federal disability law.
Many American Parents Are Disabled
Based upon the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2010 American Community Survey, the nonprofit center Through the Looking Glass (TLG) and its National Center for Parents with Disabilities and Their Families offered these estimates (U.S. only):
● 4.1 million disabled parents have minor children;
● 6.1 million children, or 9.1%, have a disabled mother or father;
● 6.2% of parents reported some disability;
● 2.8% involve mobility disabilities;
● 2.3% involve cognitive disabilities;
● 2.3% involve limits on daily activities;
● 1.4% involve hearing disabilities; and
● 1.2% involve vision disabilities.
As these numbers reflect, there are many children in the U.S. with disabled parents. These mothers and fathers continue to fight the good fight in family courts across the country. To keep their children from being placed in foster care, to be awarded child custody, and to be granted visitation.
ADA and Tennessee’s Family Laws
In the 2012 release of Rocking the Cradle: Ensuring the Rights of Parents with Disabilities and Their Children, the National Council on Disability (NCD) published its concerns about the legal battles that disabled parents, many of whom are military veterans, encounter routinely in family courts. According to the NCD, disabled parents who divorce are far more likely to lose custody of their children. Furthermore, most cognitively disabled mothers and fathers are likely to lose a custody challenge.
(If you have custody questions regarding a disabled child, then take a moment and read about Tennessee Child Custody Laws in Divorce | Memphis Divorce Attorney.)
Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990
We have all grown accustomed to working, shopping, living, and socializing with disabled Americans – they live mainstream with the rest of us. Similar to their work environment, disabled adults often make use of adaptive parenting equipment and support services in caring for their children.
Much of the credit for that transition goes to passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) which has been the law of the land for nearly a quarter of a century. We expect to accommodate people with handicaps. We anticipate working side-by-side with disabled co-workers. We raise our families in the same neighborhoods and send our children to the same schools. But do the courts extend the same level of inclusiveness when it comes to granting child custody or visitation to a disabled parent?
Although the ADA mandates equal access to the courts, once in state family court system, a parent’s disability could be used by the other parent as a weapon against custody and visitation. Because of the problems facing disabled parents in custody disputes, Tennessee’s recent anti-discrimination legislation begins to level the playing field.
Tennessee Goes Beyond the ADA
On May 14, 2013, Tennessee Senate Bill No. 749 was signed into law by Governor Haslam. Along with strong pro-family public policy reasons, state legislators recognized that too many disabled Tennessee parents “have suffered invidious discrimination in child welfare and custody proceedings solely because of such person’s disability.” Given that healthy families are the “foundation of an orderly and prosperous society,” legislators recognized that many parents are quite capable of raising families despite their disabling conditions. Tennessee goes beyond the ADA by amending T.C.A. § 36-6-106(1) to add:
“The disability of a parent seeking custody shall not create a presumption for or against awarding custody to such a party but may be a factor to be considered by the court.”
Whether divorce, annulment, separate maintenance, or custody modification, Tennessee law requires that the court consider all relevant factors pertaining to custody when making a decision on what is in the children’s best interests. A parent’s disability, in and of itself, is not presumed to be sufficient cause to deny custody or visitation. Instead, the adult’s physical or mental disability is one of many important factors to be considered by the court.
What factors are considered in TN child custody cases? See our introduction to Child Custody Factors in Tennessee Divorce Law to learn more.
Memphis TN Child Custody Lawyer
Parents with disabilities may encounter greater challenges in child custody proceedings, even in the wake of the 2013 amendment to Tennessee law. Preparation is essential to the best possible outcome. The Miles Mason Family Law Group handles Tennessee divorce, child support, alimony, child custody, and parent relocation. Download our free e-Book, Your First Steps: 7 Steps Planning Your Tennessee Divorce. A Memphis divorce lawyer from the Miles Mason Family Law Group can help. To schedule your confidential consultation, call us today at (901) 683-1850.